Even though Morales agreed to the OAS’s push for new elections, the country’s opposition and military forced him out.
GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Arlington, Virginia.
Bolivia’s president Evo Morales has been forced from office and has been granted political asylum in Mexico. The events that let up to this happened in rapid succession over the weekend. On Sunday, the Organization of American States, the OAS, released a report about the October 20 presidential election in which it said that there were numerous irregularities and that the official result, which gave Morales a more than 10-point victory over this rival, could not be audited. The OAS thus recommended a new presidential election.
President Morales, who had previously promised to abide by the OAS report, announced the same day that the report came out that he would, indeed, call for a new election. However, Bolivia’s top generals came out with a statement that day urging the president to resign. Here’s what they said:
WILLIAMS KALIMAN: After analyzing the internal conflict situation, we ask the president of the state to renounce his presidential mandate, allowing for peace to be restored and the maintenance of stability for the good of Bolivia.
GREG WILPERT: Morales then said that his government was facing a coup d’état.
EVO MORALES: I want to announce to the Bolivian people and the whole world that a coup d’état is underway–as you know, brother journalists. A coup d’état against a democratically elected government with more than 60 percent of the vote in the last elections; a coup d’état by violent, anti-Democratic groups that don’t respect democracy, the election results, or social peace.
GREG WILPERT: The following day though, after protests and clashes between the government supporters and opposition supporters, Morales decided to resign along with his vice-president, Alvaro Garcia Linera. Shortly thereafter, Morales tweeted that he was taking Mexico up on its offer for political asylum. Mexico’s Foreign Minister shortly thereafter tweeted a photo of Morales draped in a Mexican flag on an airplane. Exactly what happens now is unclear. The vice-president of Bolivia’s senate, Jeanine Áñez, who is a member of the opposition, has offered to become president. But the final decision rests with Bolivia’s congress, which remains in the hands of Morales’s political party, the Movement Toward Socialism.
Joining me now to analyze the current situation in Bolivia is Kathryn Ledebur. She is director of the Andean Information Network, and a researcher, activist, and analyst with over two decades of experience in Bolivia. Thanks for joining us again, Kathryn.
KATHRYN LEDEBUR: Thank you.
GREG WILPERT: So let’s start with what’s going on right now. Evo Morales, as far as we know, is in Mexico. What happens now? What’s the latest? Have protests and violence in the streets died down yet? And will congress name an interim president until there is a new election within 90 days, as the constitution stipulates?
KATHRYN LEDEBUR: Well, there’s a great deal of uncertainty. Yesterday was an extremely violent day. Yesterday evening, the Bolivian armed forces went out on the streets, something that they had not done during this conflict when Morales remained president. And almost as a direct result of that, we’re seeing significant numbers of bullet wounds in conflicts; at least 12 bullet wounds in La Paz, multiple bullet wounds in Cochabamba; and an escalation of protests, both protests that, people that support Morales and noticeably attacking police stations, and rejection of the police mutiny that helped facilitate Morales’s ouster, and a great deal of violence, conflict, and uncertainty.
We don’t know what’s going to happen in the congress. The opposition congressperson doesn’t have any constitutional mandate to become interim president. There is no clear way out of this morass, and no diplomatic proposal from the opposition forces that led to Morales’s ouster, which was and in fact as he had announced, a coup.
GREG WILPERT: Let’s go a little bit over how Bolivia got here. Morales had agreed to new elections on Sunday, so why did he resign on Monday? Was it just the pressure from the military, or do you think there were other things going on, too?
KATHRYN LEDEBUR: I think there were many factors. And I think he resigned late afternoon on Sunday, and what happened in the interim is interesting to note and I think decisive–much more decisive than the military’s announcement. And that is, he agreed for new elections; he called for opposition leaders and congress members to dialogue about the best way to choose an electoral tribunal that would be balanced and competent in order to carry out this electoral process. And the opposition rejected any initiative for dialogue, any discussion, and began to push even harder for Morales’s resignation.
It’s important to note that the OAS audit results stated clearly that Morales should finish his elected mandate until January 21 of 2020 and that the Bolivian constitution to be respected. The opposition forces didn’t do this. And attacks on MAS officials, burnings of their homes, of ministers, of members of congress; attacks on family members; sacking, looting, threats, showed that their demand was not focused in a new election or a democratic demand, but in destabilization. And as events continued to deteriorate during the day and it became quite clear that the violence was going to escalate, Morales made the choice after the request and consulting multiple institutions that he should step down to avoid violence.
One of the last requests registered was that of the Bolivian armed forces, but I don’t think that was the decisive move that immediately led him to do it. I think it was a process of deterioration during the day, a carefully considered decision, and my guess is a decision that Morales had already made when the armed forces decision came out. He was already en route to the Chaparral cocoa growing region where his base supporters are from. That’s not to say now that the military conduct is not questionable. They’re out on the streets; there’s clear excessive use against force in protests which are in fact very violent. And there’s also some looting going on, and no clarity about where we’re supposed to go from here.
GREG WILPERT: You mentioned the OAS report, which was supposed to be an audit. And they concluded that the result couldn’t be audited. Now even though the report said that Morales should remain in office until the end of his term in January of 2020, they seem to have given significant ammunition to the opposition to engage in this kind of protest, which gave fuel to the fire, basically is what I’m saying. I would think at least… I just want to get your reaction to that in terms of what the OAS report’s role was in all of this.
I also want to keep in mind that according to the official result at least, Evo Morales got 46.95, almost 47 percent, compared to 36.6 percent for his closest rival in the October 20 election. So this was a difference of about 10.4 percentage points, which is 0.4 percent points above what was needed for a second round. Now the opposition claimed fraud and the OAS basically suggested the same. Did anyone actually present any evidence also that there was fraud? So in other words, first of all, what role did the OAS report play in fueling the flames of the opposition, so to speak? And had there been any evidence of fraud?
KATHRYN LEDEBUR: Well you know, there was evidence presented of no fraud in the solidity by Morales supporters and some analysts. It’s very important to note that the opposition leaders presented all sorts of arguments, but externally; never coordinated with the audit; never respected Morales’s request for a truce, or a period of peace and calm to allow the audit to take place. So the audit took place under great duress, threat of violence. The preliminary report was accelerated. It was supposed to come out Wednesday. There were a series of problems with the audit, especially the audit leader having published various articles against Morales’s reelection, and who resigned in the early days of the audit.
But I think the important thing here to note is that Morales abided by his agreements regardless of the results, and the opposition has consistently avoided dialogue, avoided engagement, rejected the voice of international organizations; rejected and violated Bolivia’s constitution and laws. And so we have a group that stimulated and engaged in a violent overthrow of an elected president, and a president that’s still, even according to initial electoral polls, is the most popular president in modern Bolivian history. And we have a violent, unconstitutional act and no plan to move forward, and no recognition or a structuring on the part of the opposition to move towards dialogue or a constitutional framework respect.
GREG WILPERT: Now it might be a bit early to do a post-mortem on the Morales presidency, but where would you say that things went awry? That is, did he miscalculate to the extent of his support? I mean, you said that he is still the most popular politician in Bolivia, but it has declined a bit, his support, compared to the 60 percent of the previous election that he won with.
And Pablo Solon, who was once Morales’s ambassador to the U.N., just wrote an article blaming Morales basically for proceeding with a fourth run for the presidency despite having lost the referendum for abolishing term limits and saying that this was one of the main reasons for the situation we’re in, in Bolivia right now. Would you agree with that? Then there’s also the suggestion by others that outside forces played a much bigger role. And they mentioned, for example, a lithium deal that was pushed through. What would you say? What was, so to speak, the issue that caused a lot of people to turn against Morales and put him in this difficult situation that he finds himself in now?
KATHRYN LEDEBUR: Well, I think it would be hard to identify one, single issue. I think there’s a broad range of factors that influenced this. There was popular, a significant portion of the population that wasn’t in agreement with Morales’s fourth run. That was a significant factor in the reduction of support. There was also a campaign on social media of fake news, of fear mongering on the part of the opposition, which did a great deal to deteriorate or to misrepresent the situation or/and Morales’s achievements. Certainly Morales made many mistakes in his long tenure, but there were also significant gains in terms of reductions in poverty and social programs. So that is important.
I think you have to also take into account that it’s the old oligarchy, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, and Carlos Sanchez Berzain, who can’t return to Bolivia because they’ve been charged for the 2003 order to shoot that led to the death of 69 protesters in El Alto. At the same time, they’ve been found guilty in a civil case in the United States, and the appeal for that begins. I think there’s an idea of having that traditional party bloc come back into power and to allow them to return triumphantly.
There were a great deal of economic interests, private economic interests; a Santa Cruz oligarchy, a very disturbing presence of a very far-right wing organization and the loudest spokesperson now for the opposition, Luis Fernando Camacho, who got his start with the Santa Cruz Youth League, a far-right wing organization that still employs the Nazi salute. So you see a centrist opposition moving quickly towards the right, and kind of the silencing of alternative voices. Right now what represents Bolivian public opinion… it’s very divided. But it’s very hard to know where people will come down. But it’s certainly not, as now the mainstream media represents, an across the board rejection of Morales.
GREG WILPERT: All right. Okay. Well, we’re going to have to leave it there for now, but of course we’re going to continue to follow this situation in Bolivia. I was speaking to Kathryn Ledebur, Director of the Andean Information Network based in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Thanks again, Kathryn, for having joined us today.
KATHRYN LEDEBUR: Thank you so much for having me.
GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.
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